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"The Wrecking Ground, pt. 9" by Lee Huttner

"The Wrecking Ground" is an essay told in parts by Lee Huttner. We will be publishing a new part each week on our blog. Stay tuned!


See: skeletal husk of hull in the distance, silhouetted against the sky, waves licking at it still, greedy.

He will record their testimonies, the facts of the matter, the order of events. He will reconstruct what he did not witness.

What has gone unseen is of less importance than what we may see now. The dream is far truer than the memory, the memory far truer than the event.

Waldo had urged him to travel to Fire Island and recover what he could. They both knew that Margaret had drowned. But her body, and that of her husband, were yet to be accounted for.

Though he writes down the notes of his journey and interviews with witnesses and survivors, he will not write of any of this in his journal. Two and a half million words written over twenty-five years, and not a single one recalling these days of grim, fruitless beachcombing.

See: the flesh of the chest peeled from the ribs, body little more than bones, little more than gleanings.

Yet, fragments will surface now and again as he writes on other subjects. Waking at dawn over a year later, he will set a queer dream to paper before its memory fades like ink poured into open water. I sailed over the sea in a small vessel, he writes. I saw the buttons which had come off the coats of drowned men.

He knows that in his desk drawer he will find such a button. Mother of pearl, bred in darkness on the sea-floor. The second mate had assured him that the coat was Giovanni Ossoli’s, Margaret’s husband. So, he took his pocket-knife and sundered the button from the heavy, waterlogged cloth.

Of the bodies of Margaret, Giovanni, and their little son Nino, only the boy’s was recovered.

Margaret carried with her across the Atlantic the recently completed manuscript of her book. Her writing desk was salvaged, the manuscript lost.

Of the six passengers being transported on the Elizabeth, one survived. She oversaw the internment of the drowned boy in a sea-chest, burying him three feet down in a nook between two dunes far from the water. The boy’s nurse, two sailors, and the ship’s steward were buried nearby.

From the shore, he looks out.

See: the white gleam of moonlight on the stygian water, reflected for a mere instant on each ripple, dappling the surface with innumerable sparks. Like pale hands reaching up, flashing. Thousands of white-gloved hands breaking through the skin of the ocean.

Beneath, he knows, blocks of raw white marble rest monolithic on the sea floor, where they will remain for the epochs it takes to erode them into sand. Cenotaphs visited only by barnacle and anemone.

See: each patch of moonlight like a sheet of paper. Thousands of linen leaves scattered across the surface, stretching to the horizon.

Margaret, beside the mast, spectral in her white gown. A wave comes; where she stood, now only stars.

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